Sonatane Takulua returns as one of five changes to Newcastle Falcons’ team for Friday’s Aviva Premiership visit of Worcester Warriors to Kingston Park Stadium (kick-off 8pm).
The Tonga scrum-half is the only addition to the Falcons’ back division for their final home game of the regular season, Scottish pair Scott Lawson and Jon Welsh returning to the front-row in a re-jigged forward pack.
Sean Robinson comes in at second row with Callum Chick added to the back row, director of rugby Dean Richards keen for the Falcons to throw their hat in the ring for a European Champions Cup place with just two rounds of regular-season action remaining.
Richards said: “It’s potentially our last home game of the season depending what happens in terms of qualifying for the Champions Cup play-offs, so let’s give it a huge effort and see what happens.
“Champions Cup rugby is definitely still on the cards for us. Assuming we turn up on Friday and then again at Bristol eight days later, it’s a possibility, and we have to give ourselves that chance. If it comes, then happy days, but we know it’s complicated with results elsewhere.
“To finish sixth and qualify automatically we need Northampton to draw with Harlequins with neither side getting any bonus points, and therefore we know it’s a mathematical long shot. Seventh place and a play-off semi-final is a more realistic option, so we’re just concentrating on winning our next two games and seeing where that leaves us.
“Everyone is excited about that challenge, and following our last game at Leicester there has been a bit of niggle in the changing room this week. I like that, and I feel like the lads are in a good place for this one.”
Keen to bounce back from their 30-3 loss at Welford Road, the Falcons boss said: “We sat down with the players, talked it through, and they were disappointed more than anything with the performance.
“Obviously as a coaching team you look at yourself, the players have looked at themselves also, and throughout as a whole group we were disappointed with what happened on the day. The way the result unfolded sent us back to the drawing board a little bit like our defeat down at Bath earlier in the season, because we went with high hopes and it didn’t happen for us. We bounced back from that at the time and we can do so again.
“There are a lot of complex factors involved, but at the end of the day Leicester are a good side. You can’t take that away, but at the same time we felt we should have competed better than we did. We’ve looked at ourselves more than anything, and we’re determined to come back with a big performance against Worcester on Friday night.
“What we talk about all the time is accuracy, getting things right and doing it repeatedly. That has been the focus during the week, because we have full confidence in what we are going out there to achieve. Having the accuracy to execute it is the key, and if we have that we’ll be fine.”
Worcester travel north under the tutelage of former Falcons boss Gary Gold, the South African who had a five-month spell at Kingston Park back in 2012
Richards said: “Worcester under Gary have become far more pragmatic in the way that they play.
“They certainly don’t play from depth as they did at the start of the season, they will try and play for territory but at the same time they’re pretty exciting as a side. They like to bring an expansive game when they’re in the right areas, and it will be an interesting game on Friday night.
“One thing we’re sure of as a playing group is that the crowd are going to be fantastic – they always are on a Friday night and we really enjoy that atmosphere. Worcester always have a hard, physical pack, and in that sense we know what’s coming. At the same time our own pack’s not too bad. It has gone well this season, our back line is exceptional and we only need 45% possession. The rest is history if we can get that on the night.”
Tickets for Friday’s game are available by calling 0871 226 6060.
Newcastle Falcons team v Worcester Warriors (Friday, 8pm, Kingston Park Stadium)
15 Marcus Watson
14 Vereniki Goneva
13 Chris Harris
12 Juan Pablo Socino
11 Sinoti Sinoti
10 Joel Hodgson
9 Sonatane Takulua
1 Rob Vickers
2 Scott Lawson
3 Jon Welsh
4 Calum Green
5 Sean Robinson
6 Mark Wilson
7 Will Welch (captain)
8 Callum Chick
17 Ben Harris
18 Scott Wilson
19 Opeti Fonua
20 Will Witty
21 Sam Egerton
22 Craig Willis
23 Alex Tait
Referee: Greg Garner